Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Ayatollah Fadlalah

Ayatullah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah survived an apparent CIA assassination attempt — a 1985 car bombing in Beirut that killed 80 people — and wore the attempt on his life as a badge of honor. The fiery cleric, whose most famous fatwa blessed suicide bombers in the war against Israel, was an intellectual pioneer of militant Islam: a brilliant jurist and tireless organizer, reviled by Washington as the spiritual leader of Hizballah.

But by the time of his death (of natural causes), Fadlallah had broken with Hizballah and the toxic legacy of his early edicts. He criticized Iran's clerical rule, supported women's rights and insisted on dialogue with the West. When I interviewed him, he was a soft-spoken and gracious host who enjoyed debating policy and philosophy. His passing marks a step backward for reform in the combustible world of Islamist militancy.

Thanassis Cambanis

Cambanis is the author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel